Arby’s Goes Into Play

The casual-dining category continues to be in flux, as Arby’s today launched a review of its creative assignment.

The incumbent, Omnicom Group’s Merkley + Partners in New York, is not defending. Merkley has handled the account since 2004.

Arby’s spent $128 million in major measured media last year, down from $140 million-plus in ’08, per Nielsen. Ad spending in the first half of 2010 was slightly more than $50 million.

EBJ Consultants is overseeing the process.

Wendy’s/Arby’s, the parent firm, last week reported a 4 percent second-quarter revenue slide to $877 million compared to the same period a year ago. Most of the blame was placed on the poor performance of Arby’s, where revenue fell $28 million vs. Q2 ’09. (Publciis Groupe’s The Kaplan Thaler Group added the Wendy’s ad assignment last year.)

“We are deeply involved in analysis and consumer research that will result in the evolution of the Arby’s brand vision and positioning,” said Hala Moddelmog, client president. “With that work nearly completed, this is a natural time to introduce fresh thinking in our brand positioning and brand messaging.”

The review process should finish up by year’s end. Media chores, with IPG’s Initiative, are not in play.

The category has been especially active of late. Red Lobster concluded its $115 million review yesterday, naming WPP Group’s Grey in New York, which already worked for its parent company. Denny’s $60 million business is currently in play. And numerous smaller chains — Boston Market, Bojangles and Church’s Chicken among them — have also made shifts and/or launched new campaigns.